Pentecostals, Healing and Ecumenism

By Anderson, Allan | International Review of Mission, July-October 2004 | Go to article overview

Pentecostals, Healing and Ecumenism


Anderson, Allan, International Review of Mission


Abstract

The significant Pentecostal participation in the recent (2002-3) conferences on faith and healing in Ghana and Chile is placed within the historical context of Pentecostal ecumenical involvement throughout the history of Pentecostalism. Pentecostals have dialogued and cooperated with the ecumenical movement, with whom there has sometimes been an uneasy (and even hostile) relationship. However, Pentecostalism has not lived up to the high ecumenical ideals of its founders. Real ecumenism is defined by the unity of all Christians, and Pentecostalism's tendency to exclusivism and divisiveness on the one hand, and the World Council of Churches' (WCC) reluctance to involve them on the other have impoverished the global church. These problems have been exacerbated by Pentecostal identification with "conservative" evangelicalism and by the ostracism of those Pentecostals who have participated in the ecumenical movement. Yet, the Charismatic movement since the 1960s, and an increasing number of joint dialogical conferences have weakened the polarisation.

The subject of healing, particularly that of "divine healing" of physical illness, has always been central to Pentecostal beliefs and practices, but it is one where there are at least as many questions as answers. This was reflected in the consultations. The differences were surprisingly few, and both Pentecostal and older church representatives expressed serious concerns regarding the practices of some Charismatic "healers" The WCC, which historically has tended to concentrate on medical missions, has long recognized the importance of Pentecostalism to the subject of healing. This was especially true in the South, where healing is far more important to the Christian community than it is in the North. In the Accra consultation, this was illustrated by the exposure visits undertaken by participants to healing and "deliverance" centres, and the case studies presented of healing practitioners.

Introduction

It has been a privilege to participate in three consultations on three continents at the invitation of the WCC: London, England in April 2002; Acera, Ghana in December 2002; Santiago, Chile in October 2003 in conjunction with the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI). I have also been part of an international preparatory committee for the last two of these consultations. As one closely involved with Pentecostal and Charismatic churches since 1968, I have found that the subject of healing in these circles has often been "confessed" but seldom discussed frankly and openly. My own experiences of healing, both "successes" and "failures", have been an important part of my pilgrimage. (1) An earlier preliminary conference held in Hamburg, Germany in June 2000 was reported in a double issue of the International Review of Mission devoted to "Health, Faith and Healing". (2) All these conferences, while having slightly differing emphases, had healing as their general theme, and all had significant Pentecostal representation and exposure, especially in Accra and Santiago. Pentecostals were not active in the Hamburg conference, although papers delivered by Claudia Wahrisch-Oblau and Michael Bergunder dealt sensitively with healing in Pentecostalism. (3) In London, Finnish Pentecostal theologian Veli-Matti Karkkainen presented a short paper on identity and plurality, and I gave a paper on Pentecostal/Charismatic approaches to healing. (4) The majority of Ghanaians in the Accra consultation were Pentecostals or Charismatics from older churches; our hosts included the Church of Pentecost and the Ghana Pentecostal Council, representing a significant proportion of Ghanaian Christians. This may have been one of the most important ecumenical gatherings in Ghana in recent years. British Elim Pentecostal Church theologian Keith Warrington led Bible studies on healing in James 5, and Church of Pentecost theologian Opoku Onyinah presented a paper on exorcism in Ghana. …

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